Life Empowerment

The Habit of Calm When You’re Feeling Frustrated

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Someone recently asked me about getting frustrated when they feel overloaded, and then shutting down or lashing out.

“This has been something I’ve struggled with for most of my life. I had an instance today where I could have been more calm and rational about the situation but calm and rationality gave way to frustration and anger. I’m wondering what habits I can use instead to keep from falling into fits of anger.”

This probably sounds familiar to some of us. We feel overloaded, and then maybe lash out at someone in frustration and anger.

This comes from the hope that things will be calm, orderly, simple, solid, and under control. The world doesn’t comply with this hope, however, as it is chaotic, disorder, constantly changing, never fixed, groundless. So we get frustrated, angry at others, and feel anxiety.

So how do we deal with the frustration that arises? How can we create a habit of calm?

I’m going to share a series of practices that you can turn into habits. When you notice yourself feeling frustrated, instead of lashing out, practice the following.

If you practice them over and over, whenever you notice frustration, you will start to shift.

The first practice is to catch your habitual pattern as early as you can, and shifting by not allowing yourself to indulge in it. When you notice yourself getting frustrated and feeling overloaded, notice the urge to go to your habitual pattern (shutting down or lashing out), but pause instead of indulging it.

The next practice is to drop into the body. Again, pause, and let yourself take a breath. Drop your attention into your body and notice the sensations of frustration and overwhelm. Stay with these sensations, with curiosity. Notice how strong the urge to lash out feels, and just savor that strong feeling instead of acting on it.

Open up to it, relax around it, be with it. Love this feeling, if you can, or at least be compassionate with it. Once you practice this, you get more and more comfortable being in the middle of frustration, and you don’t need to relieve the feeling by lashing out. You now have more space to calm yourself and do the next practice.

The third practice is to use this newfound space to connect to the other person. Now, I understand that you might be angry at them, and so connecting to them is the last thing you want to do. Your heart is closed to them, because you think they are the problem. The problem is your closed heart. Try not indulging in that shutting down, and opening yourself a little. This is a challenging but transformative practice.

From this place, notice the other person — they are acting the way they’re acting because they are feeling some kind of pain themselves. Maybe they’re feeling insecure, anxious, worried about the future. Maybe they are hurt by something you did and are themselves lashing out in frustration. Well, you can understand that! You are feeling the same thing. In this way, the two of you are connected.

Maybe you’ve responded to their frustration with frustration of your own. Now you are suffering like they’re suffering. You are connected in this way, the same. Let this sameness open you up to them, understanding them in a more human way. They are not the problem, they are suffering like you are. You’re in this together. Now how can you work on this together?

The final practice is to try to find an appropriate, loving and compassionate response. You have empathized with the other person, but now you need to take action. The answer of what action to take is not always easy, but at the very least, you’re not responding from a place of anger, which is a place that gives rise to inappropriate responses like lashing out.

What is an appropriate, loving, compassionate response? It really depends on the situation. Some examples:

  • The other person is upset and going through a hard time, so you help them calm down, listen to their frustrations, offer empathy and compassion, and talk through a solution together.

  • The other person acted inconsiderately but perhaps was unaware of how that affected you, so you come to them when you’ve calmed down and talk to them compassionately about it, sharing the impact of their actions on you and asking calmly for a specific thing they can do in the future instead.

  • The other person is not willing to engage in a compassionate dialogue, and is set upon being a jerk. You can’t talk to them calmly, because they argue with everything. In this case, you might get a third party to mediate, like a couple’s counselor or a manager in your workplace.

  • The other person is abusive. You empathize with the pain they must feel in order to be like this. But you also remove yourself from the situation to protect yourself from harm. You try to help them get the help they need while being firm about your boundaries.

As you can see, there are many possibilities — many more than I can list here. These are just some examples to show that you can find a loving, appropriate response to the situation if you come from a place of compassion and calm.

In the end, this stuff takes a lot of practice. But it’s immeasurably more helpful to do these practices than to lash out, which hurts not only the other person, but yourself as well.

-AG

Don’t Tie Your Self-Worth on Others’ Actions

Allowing ourselves to get sucked into the emotions of others is one thing … but one of the more difficult problems is allowing the actions of other people to affect how we judge ourselves.

A good example: your boyfriend/girlfriend dumps you, so you wonder what’s wrong with yourself. Why doesn’t he/she love you? You opened yourself up to him/her, you shared your innermost self, you gave all your love to him/her … and he/she rejected you. This must mean he/she found you unworthy, right?

Actually, no: his/her actions have nothing to do with you, really.

Let me emphasize that because it’s really important: the actions of other people have very little to do with you.

If your boyfriend/girlfriend rejects you, or your boss gets mad at you, or your friend is a little distant today … that has very little to do with you (and your value as a person) and everything to do with what’s going on with them. They might be having a bad day, a bad week, are caught up in some story going on in their heads, are afraid of commitment or being rejected themselves, fear failing in the relationship, and so on and so on.

There are a million possible reasons someone might do something, and they are not a judgment on you. They are more a statement of what’s going on with the other person.

Let’s take a few examples:

  • Your friend isn’t as attentive as you’d like him to be. Does that mean he doesn’t care about you, or doesn’t want you to be happy? No. It’s possible he’s just tired, or too caught up in things that happened today to be attentive. Maybe he’s bothered by something you did, but that really is more about his issue of dealing with your actions than it is about you as a person. Maybe you can help him deal with that issue, or somehow ease his pain.

  • Your co-worker gets irritated with you and is rude. Does that mean you aren’t a good person? No, it means that person has a short temper and isn’t good at dealing with other people, or again, might be having a bad day. Instead of taking it personally, see how you can either give that person space to cool down, or help the person deal with their issues.

  • Someone doesn’t get as excited about your idea as you’d hoped. Does their rejection of your idea or proposal mean that you aren’t good? No. It’s possible your idea isn’t great, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t good or that you don’t have good ideas — maybe this is just not the right idea right now. But it’s also likely that it’s a good idea but that this person doesn’t appreciate it, or their interests don’t align with this idea right now, or maybe they have other priorities and can’t deal with this idea. Instead, thank them and move on to someone else who might be interested.

Those are just a few examples, but you can see how we often take other people’s actions personally even when they have very little to do with us. And we can often interpret their actions to be a judgment on us, and so feel bad about ourselves, when really it’s nothing to do with us.

So how do we deal with other people’s actions instead? Let’s take a look.

How to Deal with Others’ Actions

So someone rejects you, gets mad at you, is indifferent to you, is rude to you … what do you do?

There are many options, of course, but here’s what I suggest generally:

  1. Don’t take it personally. Their actions don’t have anything to do with you, so if you find yourself taking it as a personal affront to you, or a judgment of your worth, be aware of that, and let it go. Tell yourself that this has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with them.

  2. Reaffirm your value. If you feel yourself doubting your value because of their actions, recognize that your value isn’t determined by their actions or judgments. It’s determined by you. So reaffirm that you believe you have great value — appreciate the things about yourself that are good and that have value. Even if no one else appreciates you, be the one person who can see those good things and is grateful for them. That’s all you need.

  3. Be compassionate. If that person is mad, rude, irritated, tired or afraid … they are in pain. They might be lashing out at you, or withdrawing from you, because of that pain. See if you can help relieve the pain. You’ve already checked in with yourself, and realized you are good to go. Now go help the other person. If they don’t want your help, that’s OK too. Your worth isn’t determined by whether someone wants or uses your help — it’s the fact that you tried to help that’s a statement of your value. You can’t control whether other people receive your help or are grateful for it … but you can at least make the attempt.

These three steps, by the way, don’t just help you with your self worth … they help your relationship with the other person. Often we react to others as if they personally injured us, and the other person doesn’t understand why … and so they in turn take our reaction personally, and get mad or hurt. If instead we don’t take their actions personally, and instead seek to help them, they are more likely to be grateful than mad or hurt. And so we’re better friends, co-workers, partners, parents if we take things less personally and are more compassionate.

This takes practice, of course, like all skills. It’s important to recognize what’s going on, so that you can then practice these skills whenever possible.

-AG

A Guide to Letting Go of Stress

We all deal with stress on a daily basis — whether it’s the stress of being busy and overwhelmed at work, having to deal with personal crisis, traffic, relationships, health, finances … stress can be a big part of our lives.

And stress has some strong effects: it makes us less happy, less effective, less open-hearted in our relationships, it tires us out, makes us less healthy, and can even create mental health issues if it rises to levels of anxiety.

So let’s look at how to let go of stress, whenever we notice it.

What You’re Struggling With

Why do we get stressed out, feel anxiety or feel overwhelmed?

Because we want the world to be calm, orderly, comfortable, and the world isn’t going along with those wishes. Things are out of control, not orderly, not simple, full of interruptions and unplanned events, health problems and accidents, and things never go as we planned or imagined.

But this is the way the world is — the stress comes not because the world is messy and chaotic, but because we desire it to be different than it is.

We have ideals for how other people should be, how we should be, how everything around us should be. These ideals aren’t a problem — the is that we are attached to these ideals. And this attachment causes us stress.

The good news is that we can let go of our attachment, and the world doesn’t need to change one iota. We can let go, and in doing so we let go of our stress.

How to Let Go of the Stress

Let’s say you’re experiencing a moment of stress right now.

Something isn’t going the way you’d like, things are chaotic or overwhelming, someone isn’t acting the way you’d like, you’re worried about something coming up.

The first practice is to drop into your body and notice how the stress feels, physically. Be present with the feeling — it’s not a problem to have stress in your body, it’s just a physical feeling. You can observe the physical sensation, just be with it. This can be your whole practice, and it only has to take a few moments.

The second practice is to notice the ideal, or your narrative about the situation. What’s causing this stress in your body? You have some ideal about how the world should be, how the other person should be, how you should be. And the world, the person, or you are not meeting that ideal. Notice that right now. Notice what you’re saying to yourself about it: “They shouldn’t act like that, I don’t like this, I’m such a screwup and not worthy of love.”

What do you say to yourself? Is this a familiar narrative? Notice that the ideal and the narrative are causing the effect of the stress, anxiety, fear, feeling of overwhelm. They aren’t serving you very well.

Also notice that they are completely fabricated by your mind. You created this ideal and the narrative. They are harming you, and you made up this dream. That’s nothing to beat yourself up about, but just to recognize. The good news: If you created it, you can let it go as well.

The third practice is to let go and just be. What would it be like to be in this moment without the ideal and the narrative? You’d be at peace. You’d be present in this moment. You’d be free. Perhaps more loving (to yourself or others).

Ask yourself what it would be like to not have the ideal and narrative. See if you can feel what it would be like, just for a moment. In that moment, you are free. You can relax, open your mind beyond your self-concern, and just be.

This is a state of openness that you can drop into in any moment. Just notice the sensations of this moment — the sensations of your body, of your surroundings. Notice the other people in your life, and their beautiful hearts. Notice how amazing it is to be alive right now, what a gift it is to have sight, hearing, taste, a body. What a privilege, what a joy!

You don’t have to be grateful and joyous in every moment, but this freedom of dropping ideal and narrative, and being at peace … it’s always available. Even in moments of chaos, you can be free, and even appreciate the beauty of the chaos.

-AG

Focus as an Antidote for Wanting to Do Everything

I have a problem, and I think most people do as well: I want to do everything.

OK, not actually every single thing, but I want to do more than I possibly can:

  • I want to do everything on my long to-do list, today

  • I want to take on every interesting project

  • I want to say yes to everyone else’s requests, even if I know I’m already too busy

  • I want to travel everywhere, and see everything that’s interesting

  • I want to try every delicious food, and I always want more of it (and I always eat too much)

  • I want to watch every interesting TV show and film

  • I want to read everything interesting online

  • I want to take on a lot of interesting hobbies — each of which would take me many hours to master

  • I want to spend time with everyone I love, with every friend — and also have a lot of time for solitude!

Obviously, this is all impossible. But I bet I’m not alone in constantly wanting all of this and more.

There’s a term for this in Buddhism that sounds judgmental but it’s not: “greed.” The term “greed” in this context just describes the very human tendency to want more of what we want.

It’s why we’re overloaded with too many things to do, overly busy and overwhelmed. It’s why we’re constantly distracted, why we overeat and shop too much and get addicted to things. It’s why we have too much stuff, and are in debt.

Greed is so common that we don’t even notice it. It’s the foundation of our consumerist society. It’s the ocean that we’re swimming, so much a part of the fabric of our lives that we can’t see that it’s there.

So what can we do about this tendency called greed? Is there an antidote?

There absolutely is.

The traditional antidote to greed in Buddhism is generosity. And while we will talk about the practice of generosity, the antidote I’d like to propose you try is focus.

Focus is a form of simplicity. It’s letting go of everything that you might possibly want, to give complete focus on one important thing.

Imagine that you want to get 20 things done today. You are eager to rush through them all and get through your to-do list! But instead of indulging in your greed tendency, you decide to simplify. You decide to focus.

The Practice of Complete Focus

This practice can be applied to all of the types of greed we mentioned above — wanting to do everything, read everything, say yes to everything, go everywhere, eat all the things.

Identify the urge: The first step in this practice is to recognize that your greed tendency is showing itself. Notice that you want to do everything, eat everything, and so forth. Once we’re aware of the tendency, we can work with it.

See the effects: Next, we need to recognize that indulging in the greed tendency only hurts us. It makes us feel stressed, overwhelmed, always unsatisfied. It makes us do and eat and watch and shop too much, to the detriment of our sleep, happiness, relationships, finances and more. Indulging might satisfy a temporary itch, but it’s not a habit that leads to happiness or fulfillment.

Practice refraining: Third, we can choose to refrain — choose not to indulge. The practice of refraining is about not indulging in the greed tendency, and instead pausing. Noticing the urge to indulge, and mindfully noticing how the urge feels in our body, as a physical sensation. Where is it located? What is it like? Be curious about it. Stay with it for a minute or two. Notice that you are actually completely fine, even if the urge is really strong. It’s just a sensation.

Focus with generosity: Then we can choose to be generous and present with one thing. Instead of trying to do everything, choose just one thing. Ideally, choose something that’s important and meaningful, that will have an impact on the lives of others, even if only in a small way. Let this be an act of generosity for others. Let go of everything else, just for a few minutes, and be completely with this one thing. Generously give it your full attention. This is your love.

Clear distractions: If necessary, create structure to hold you in this place of focus. That might mean shutting off the phone, turning off the Internet, going to a place where you can completely focus. Think of it as creating your meditation space.

Practice with the resistance: As you practice focus, you are likely to feel resistance towards actually focusing and doing this one thing. You’ll want to go do something else, anything else. You’ll feel great aversion to doing this one thing. It’s completely fine. Practice with this resistance as you did with the urge: noticing the physical sensation, meditating on it with curiosity, staying with it with attention and love. Again, it’s just a sensation, and you can learn to love it as you can any experience.

Let go of everything, and generously give your complete focus to one thing. Simplify, and be completely present.

You can do this with your urge to do all tasks, read all things, do all hobbies, say yes to all people and projects. But you can also do it with possessions: choose just to have what you need to be happy, and simplify by letting go of the rest. You can do the same with travel: be satisfied with where you are, or with going to one place and fully being there with it.

You don’t need to watch everything, read everything, eat everything. You can simplify and do less. You can let go and be present. You can focus mindfully.

-AG

A Simple Guide to Being Present for the Overworked and Overwhelmed

“With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

How often are you driving while talking on a cell phone, or thinking about work problems, or the errands you have to do? How often do you eat without thinking about the food you’re eating? How often do you drift off while doing other things, thinking about something you messed up on, or worrying about something that’s coming up?

I would submit that most of us are elsewhere, much of the time, rather than in the here and now.

If I could only give one word of advice to someone trying to find peace in an overwhelming and stressful and chaotic world, it would be this: simplify. But if I could give two more words of advice, they’d be: be present.

I can’t claim to be perfect at being present. I can’t claim that I do it all the time. But I can say this: I’ve been practicing being present for awhile now, and I’ve gotten better at it. I’ve learned a lot about being present, and I’d like to share that with others.

Focus On Now
There are three things we can think about:

  1. The past. Reliving things we messed up about. Being embarrassed about something we did. Wishing we could have something back that is gone. Living in memories of good times past. Being angry about things done to us. You get the idea.

  2. The future. Worrying about things we need to do later. Worrying about what might happen, or a big event coming up. Being anxious that things might go wrong, or that we might mess up. Hoping for something wonderful. Dreaming of great things to come.

  3. The present. What is happening right now, at this moment. What we are doing now.

It is inevitable that we will think about all three. We cannot stop ourselves from thinking about the past or the future. However, with practice, we can focus on the present more than we already do.

But why should we do that? What’s wrong with focusing on the past or future? Nothing’s wrong with it. It isn’t wrong to think about past or future. However, there’s nothing we can do about things that have already happened, and worrying or agonizing about them doesn’t usually do us much good. I’d suggest analyzing what happened, learning from it, and moving on. It’s much healthier.

We also can’t control the future. It’s impossible. We can do things that will change the future, but they might change the future in ways we cannot anticipate. Or they might not change things at all. And the only thing we can do about the future is do something … now. In the present. So focusing on what we do now is the best way to improve the future. Not thinking about the future. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have goals or shouldn’t plan — but goals change (I know this first-hand, as my goals at the end of 2007 were completely different from what they were at the beginning). Plans change. We must be prepared for that change not by overplanning, but by being in the moment and rolling with the punches.

There’s also the problem of missing the present. If we spend most of our time thinking about the past or future, we are missing life itself. It’s passing us by while we’re elsewhere. You can’t get the most out of life unless you learn to focus on being present, while things are happening. Thinking about your childhood, or your kid’s future, is useless if your kids’ childhood is passing by without you being there.

Benefits of Being in the Moment
I’ve noticed a ton of benefits from my increased focus on the present. Here are just a few to consider:

  1. Increased enjoyment. I find that I enjoy life more if I’m present rather than having my mind elsewhere. Food tastes better, I have more fun with my family, even work becomes more enjoyable.

  2. Reduced stress. Worrying about the past and future gives you stress. But being present is almost like meditation. There are no worries. There is just experiencing.

  3. Better relationships. When you really commit yourself to being with someone, to listening to them, you are being a better father, husband, friend, daughter, girlfriend. You have better conversations. You bond.

  4. Get things done. I find that focusing on what I’m doing, rather than trying to multitask or multithink a million different things at once, I actually complete what I’m doing, do a better job on it, and get it done faster. I don’t necessarily do more, but I get things done. Focus tends to get things done, in my experience, and when your focus is split among a lot of things, it is less powerful.

The Magic of Flow
There’s a concept called Flow that’s been pretty popular among productivity circles in the last couple of years. I’m a big fan of it myself. In a nutshell, it’s basically losing yourself in whatever you’re doing — reaching that magical zone where you forget about the outside world and are completely doing what you’re doing, whether that’s writing or drawing or coding or whatever.

It’s a wonderfully productive zone to be in, and a state that also, incidentally, makes you happier. Productive and happier at the same time. Hard to beat that.

However, it can’t happen if you’re switching between tasks or thinking about the past or the future. It basically happens when you are in the present. So practicing being present will help you get to flow, which makes you happier and more productive. Best argument yet for being present, perhaps.

Practice, Practice
There’s no single method that will get you better at being present. I don’t have the magical formula, except one word that I often tell my kids when they’re learning anything or striving to be better at anything: practice.

You won’t be good at it at first, most likely. Your mind will wander, or you’ll do a lot of “meta-thinking”, which is just thinking about what you’re thinking, and whether you’re thinking it the right way, and whether there is a right way … and so on, until you’re no longer in the present. That’s normal. We all do that, I think.

Don’t beat yourself up about that. Don’t get discouraged. Just practice.

So what’s the magical method for learning to be present? Practice.

You do it in the morning. You practice it while eating lunch. You do it with your evening jog or walk. You do it while washing dishes after dinner. Every opportunity you get, practice.

And you’ll get better. I promise.

The best method I can offer for learning to be present, the best method for practicing, is to focus on it for one month. Make focusing on being present a habit. If you make it your only focus, I guarantee you’ll get better at it, and more importantly, you’ll get into the habit of remembering to focus, of remembering to practice, of being more aware.

“The living moment is everything.” – D.H. Lawrence

Tips On Being Present
You just knew I couldn’t end this post without a list of tips. So here are things that have worked for me … pick and choose the ones that you think will work best for you:

  1. When you eat, just eat. The best way to think about being present is this: do just one thing at a time. When you are eating, don’t read or think about something else or iron your clothes (especially if you’re eating something that might splatter on the clothes). Just eat. Pay attention to what you’re eating. Really experience it — the taste, the texture. Do it slowly. Same thing with anything else: washing dishes, taking a shower, driving, working, playing. Don’t do multiple things at once — just do what you’re doing now, and nothing else.

  2. Be aware. Another important step is to become more aware of your thoughts. You will inevitably think about the past and future. That’s OK. Just become aware of those thoughts. Awareness will bring change.

  3. Be gentle. If you think about the past or future, do not beat yourself up about it! Don’t try to force those thoughts out of your head. Just be aware of them, and gently allow them to leave. Then bring yourself back to the present.

  4. Zazen. Ah, you were wondering when Zen Habits would have anything to do with Zen, right? Zazen is basically the center of Zen practice. It’s simply sitting. It’s a form of meditation, but really it’s just sitting. You don’t have to contemplate Zen koans or the meaning of the universe or chant anything. You just sit, and focus on sitting. I haven’t done this much recently, but when I have, it has been very useful practice for me.

  5. Exercise. These days, exercise is my zazen. Running is my sitting practice. I run, and try to only run. I focus on my running, on my breathing, on my body, on nothing but the present. It’s great practice.

  6. Daily routines. Anything can be your zazen. When you wash dishes, this is practice. This is your meditation. When you walk, focus on walking. Make anything you do become practice.

  7. Put up reminders. A reminder on your fridge or computer desktop or on your wall is a good thing. Or use a reminder service to send you a daily email. Whatever it takes to keep your focus on practicing being present.

  8. There is no failure. You will mess up, but that’s OK, because it is impossible to mess up. The only thing that matters is that you practice, and over time, if you keep doing it, you will learn to focus on the present more often than you do now. You cannot fail, even if you stop doing it for awhile. Doing it at all is success. Celebrate every little success.

  9. Keep practicing. When you get frustrated, just take a deep breath. When you ask yourself, “What should I do now, Self?”, the answer is “keep practicing”.

“I never think of the future. It comes soon enough.” – Albert Einstein

-AG

Develop the Powerful Habit of Mindful Focus

Creating a life of focus, purpose and mindfulness is a tough thing these days. If you’re like me, you want to bring forth your gifts to the world, but you’re pulled in a thousand directions, plagued by overwhelm, distractions, a ton of messages and emails, and so many obligations that it’s causing you to put off doing the important work you want to do in life.

You would like to:

  • Be more mindful and find a greater sense of focus in your life

  • Be more effective in your work and life

  • Achieve a sense of peace and calm amidst daily uncertainty

  • Accomplish projects without getting waylaid and distracted by a thousand other directions

Unfortunately, it’s not always so easy. The Demons of Chaos stand in your way:

  1. Other people’s demands, and a pile of emails and messages

  2. Distractions from social media and other online comfort foods for the distracted mind

  3. Putting important things off because of the uncertainty & discomfort of them

  4. It’s not easy dealing with these difficulties, and finding the mindful focus you’re looking for.

Trust me, I understand

I’ve worked with many people as a teacher and coach, and I know from personal experience (including my own life), that most of us just go about our daily lives like this. We’re doing our best but in the end having a difficult time coping with the distractions of technology, the chaos of our work and personal lives, the uncertainty that lies in everything we do.

We struggle to find focus, and find the practice of mindfulness elusive on a day-to-day basis. Amidst all of this overwhelming chaos, we can often get stuck in indecision and procrastination.

We want a greater sense of meaning in our lives, a greater sense of empowerment and control, but aren’t sure where to find it or how to get there.

Understanding why we get distracted, why it’s so difficult to find focus, why we procrastinate, and why we get plagued with indecision

  • How to structure your day and environment for greater clarity, focus and meaningful contribution?

  • How to create a focus ritual and train ourselves to stay with important tasks in mindfulness?

  • How to deal with our most common obstacles, like interruptions, emails, and the urge to run to distraction?

  • How to simplify your day and create a more deliberate pace?

  • How to cut out distractions?

It’s Not Easy, But You Got This

Committing yourself to training like this isn’t easy. Consider how a lifetime of improved, mindful focus will benefit not only you but those you serve, those around you, anyone who is close to you.

Devoting yourself to this kind of training is never easy, but you are someone who isn’t afraid of the difficult, and who has taken on the discomfort of putting yourself out there in the world to serve others. Your heart is bigger than a little discomfort, and you are up to this challenge.

I believe in you, and would love to work with you one day! Keep enjoying this journey!

-AG

A Simple Mindful Method to Deal with Tiredness, Loneliness & Stress

“I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but that when I didn’t believe them, I didn’t suffer, and that this is true for every human being. Freedom is as simple as that. I found a joy within me that has never disappeared, not for a single moment. That joy is in everyone, always.” ~Byron Katie

A loved one has been going through a hard time, dealing with tiredness, stress, and loneliness, and my heart goes out to them as it does anyone going through such struggles.

They can break your heart, these difficult emotions.

But beyond compassion, what I tried to help her with is a fairly simple method for dealing with these difficulties mindfully. I offer it to you all as well, as something to practice and test out.

Here’s the method, to practice if you’re feeling stress, frustration, loneliness, sadness, tiredness:

  1. Notice that you’re feeling this difficult emotion, and notice how it feels in your body. Bring a sense of curiosity to the sensations, just being present with them for a moment.

  2. Notice what thoughts you have in your head that are causing the emotion. For example, you might be thinking, “They shouldn’t treat me like that” or “Why does my job have to be so hard?” or “These people are stressing me out! Things should be more settled and orderly.” Or something like that. Just notice whatever thoughts you have. Maybe write them down.

  3. Notice that the thoughts are causing your difficulty. Not the situation — the thoughts. You might not believe that at first, but see if you can investigate whether that’s true.

  4. Ask yourself, “What would it be like if I didn’t have these thoughts right now? What would my experience be right now?” The simple answer is that you’re just having an experience — you have feelings in your body, but you also are experiencing a moment that has light, colors, sound, touch sensation on your skin, and so on. It’s just an experience, a moment in time, not good or bad.

  5. In fact, while this experience is neither good nor bad, you can start to appreciate it for what it is, without the thoughts. Just seeing it as a fresh experience, maybe even appreciating the beauty of the moment. Maybe even loving the moment just as it is.

Obviously some of these might take some practice. But it’s worth it, because while you might not be able to get rid of tiredness (some rest would help there), you can let go of the thoughts about the tiredness that are causing you to be unhappy. You might not be able to get rid of the loneliness, but you can let go of the downward spiral of thoughts and emotions that make the situation worse.

And just maybe, you can find some incredible love for your experience in this moment. Yes, you feel tired, but you can love the tiredness, and everything else in this moment, without needing anything to change.

-AG

Soaking in the Wonder of the Emerging Moment

Lately I’ve been using the image of an empty cup to find a more peaceful state of mind.

One of the most peaceful, meditative states is when you’re just open to noticing what’s around you and happening in the present moment. You’re just receiving the world around you (yourself included), soaking in the light, colors, shapes, sounds, touch sensations, just noticing.

When you’re completely open to noticing this moment, it can be amazing — you notice things you wouldn’t have if you were in your normal dream state, you start to appreciate little details of everything around you. Most of us miss this almost all of the time. We all walk around in a trance, thinking about what we need to do, spinning stories about what’s happening.

Here’s the thing: if our minds are full of thoughts and stories already, we actually can’t notice the present moment. We can’t see what’s all around us, when we’re caught up in our normal dreamlike state.

You can’t fill a cup up with the present moment, when it’s already full.

So I have been practicing emptying out my cup.

I notice that I have an emotional state or story that has filled my mind and is blocking me from noticing what’s in front of me.

I let all of that flow out of the cup of my mind.

And then I soak in the present moment, noticing the physical sensations of everything around me. Noticing my body and how it feels. Noticing what’s flowing through my mind.

Then, of course, I get caught up in my thoughts again. When I notice this, I empty my cup. I soak in the moment. Then once again, I get caught up, I empty my cup, I soak in the moment.

Over and over, I empty my cup. And that leaves me open to whatever is happening right now, the wonder-filled beauty and joy of the emerging moment.

Relax Into the Moment

You might be surprised how often we’re resisting life.

If you assess your body right now, I bet you can find some kind of tension or tightness. For me, it’s often in my chest, but sometimes it’s in my jaw, face, neck or shoulders.

Where does this tightness come from? We’re struggling against something — perhaps we’re irritated by someone, frustrated by something, stressed or overwhelmed by all we have to do, or just don’t like whatever it is we’re faced with. This causes a resistance, a hardening or tightening. Everyone does it, most of the day.

It’s normal, but it causes unhappiness, an aversion to the present moment, struggles with other people or ourselves, struggles with the task we’re faced with. What I’ve found useful is the idea of relaxing into the moment.

Try this:

  • Notice where the tension is in your body right now.

  • Notice what you’re tightening against — it might be someone else, or whatever it is you’re faced with.

  • Relax the tightness. Just let yourself melt.

  • Face the same situation, but with a relaxed, friendly attitude.

And repeat as often as you can remember, throughout the day. Just use the phrase “relax into the moment” to remind yourself.

What this does is helps us to face the day with less tension and greater contentment. We struggle less with how other people are, and instead might open our hearts to them and see that they, like us, are struggling and want to be happy.

Daily Tasks

We all suffer, every day: worry, procrastination, anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, irritated, angry, frustrated, wishing things were different, comparing ourselves to others, worried we’re missing out, wishing other people would be different, feeling offended, loneliness, fear of failure, not wanting to do something, wishing we had less fat or bigger boobs or bigger muscles, angry at being controlled, wanting to find the perfect someone, wishing our partner was more perfect, stressed about finances, not wanting to think about problems, not knowing how to fix things, uncertain about choices, rushing from one task to the next, not liking our jobs.

And yet, these problems are self-created.

They’re real, but our tricky minds have created them. The problems are in our heads, created by some ideal/fantasy/expectation of how we wished the world would be, or hope it will be but fear it won’t be. It exists in our heads.

Try this, for a minute: let all of that go for a moment, and just pay attention to the physical things around you right now. Your body, the light, sounds, the thing you’re sitting on, the things moving or sitting still around you. Don’t judge them against what they should be, but just observe what they actually are.

See this moment as it is, without all the things you’re worried/frustrated/angry about. Let go of all of those things, and just see this moment.

It is perfect, as it is.

Accept this moment. Cherish it. This is real, and it is wonderful. You can go back to worrying about everything else in a moment.

We might face a task with less resistance, and instead do it with a smile. We might just notice the physical space around us and start to appreciate it for the unique gift that it is. And in the end, we’re changing our mode of being from one of struggle and resistance to one of peace and gratitude.


-AG

18 Practical Tips for Living the Golden Rule

LOCATION: St. Pius V Church - Buena Park, CA

“…thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”, Leviticus 19:18

One of the few rules I try to live my life by, and fail every day trying, is the golden rule.

I love the simplicity of the Golden Rule, its tendency to make I interact with happier … and its tendency to make me happier as well.

It’s true: the rule of treating others as you would want to be treated in their place will ultimately lead to your own happiness.

Let’s say that you apply the Golden Rule in all of your interactions with other people, and you help your neighbors, you treat your family with kindness, you go the extra mile for your co-workers, you help a stranger in need.

Now, those actions will undoubtedly be good for the people you help and are kind to … but you’ll also notice a strange thing. People will treat you better too, certainly. Beyond that, though, you will find a growing satisfaction in yourself, a belief in yourself, a knowledge that you are a good person and a trust in yourself.

Those are not small dividends. They are huge. And for that reason — not even considering that our world will be a better place if more people live by this rule — I recommend you make the Golden Rule a focus of your actions, and try to live by it to the extent that you can.

I will admit that there are strong arguments against the “Golden Rule”, that there are exceptions and logic arguments that the Golden Rule, taken to extremes, falls apart. I’m not concerned about that stuff. The truth is, on a day-to-day basis, living by the Golden Rule will make you a better person, will make those around you happier, and will make the community you live in a better place.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some practical tips for living the Golden Rule in your daily life:

  1. Practice empathy. Make it a habit to try to place yourself in the shoes of another person. Any person. Loved ones, co-workers, people you meet on the street. Really try to understand, to the extent that you can, what it is like to be them, what they are going through, and why they do what they do.

  2. Practice compassion. Once you can understand another person, and feel what they’re going through, learn to want to end their suffering. And when you can, take even a small action to somehow ease their suffering in some way.

  3. How would you want to be treated? The Golden Rule doesn’t really mean that you should treat someone else exactly as you’d want them to treat you … it means that you should try to imagine how they want to be treated, and do that. So when you put yourself in their shoes, ask yourself how you think they want to be treated. Ask yourself how you would want to be treated if you were in their situation. John F. Kennedy did that during the controversial days of de-segregation in the 1960s, asking white Americans to imagine being looked down upon and treated badly based only on the color of their skin. He asked them to imagine how they would want to be treated if they were in that situation, and act accordingly towards the blacks.

  4. Be friendly. When in doubt, follow this tip. It’s usually safe to be friendly towards others. Of course, there are times when others just don’t want someone acting friendly towards them, and you should be sensitive to that. You should also be friendly within the bounds of appropriateness. But who doesn’t like to feel welcome and wanted?

  5. Be helpful. This is probably one of the weaknesses of our society. Sure, there are many people who go out of their way to be helpful, and I applaud them. But in general there is a tendency to keep to yourself, and to ignore the problems of others. Don’t be blind to the needs and troubles of others. Look to help even before you’re asked.

  6. Be courteous in traffic. Another weakness of our society. There are few times when we are as selfish as when we’re driving. We don’t want to give up the right of way, we cut people off, we honk and curse. Perhaps it’s the isolation of the automobile. We certainly don’t act that rude in person, most of the time. So try to be courteous in traffic.

  7. Listen to others. Another weakness: we all want to talk, but very few of us want to listen. And yet, we all want to be listened to. So take the time to actually listen to another person, rather than just wait your turn to talk. It’ll also go a long way to helping you understand others.

  8. Overcome prejudice. We all have our prejudices, whether it’s based on skin color, attractiveness, height, age, gender … it’s human nature, I guess. But try to see each person as an individual human being, with different backgrounds and needs and dreams. And try to see the commonalities between you and that person, despite your differences.

  9. Stop criticism. We all have a tendency to criticize others, whether it’s people we know or people we see on television. However, ask yourself if you would like to be criticized in that person’s situation. The answer is almost always “no”. So hold back your criticism, and instead learn to interact with others in a positive way.

  10. Don’t control others. It’s also rare that people want to be controlled. Trust me. So don’t do it. This is a difficult thing, especially if we are conditioned to control people. But when you get the urge to control, put yourself in that person’s shoes. You would want freedom and autonomy and trust, wouldn’t you? Give that to others then.

  11. Be a child. The urge to control and criticize is especially strong when we are adults dealing with children. In some cases, it’s necessary, of course: you don’t want the child to hurt himself, for example. But in most cases, it’s not. Put yourself in the shoes of that child. Remember what it was like to be a child, and to be criticized and controlled. You probably didn’t like it. How would you want to be treated if you were that child?

  12. Send yourself a reminder. Email yourself a daily reminder (use Google Calendar or memotome.com, for example) to live your life by the Golden Rule, so you don’t forget.

  13. Post it on your wall or make it your home page. The Golden Rule makes a great mantra, and a great poster.

  14. Rise above retaliation. We have a tendency to strike back when we’re treated badly. This is natural. Resist that urge. The Golden Rule isn’t about retaliation. It’s about treating others well, despite how they treat you. Does that mean you should be a doormat? No … you have to assert your rights, of course, but you can do so in a way where you still treat others well and don’t strike back just because they treated you badly first. Remember Jesus’ wise (but difficult to follow) advice: turn the other cheek.

  15. Be the change. Gandhi famously told us to be the change we want to see in the world. Well, we often think of that quote as applying to grand changes, such as poverty and racism and violence. Well, sure, it does apply to those things … but it also applies on a much smaller scale: to all the small interactions between people. Do you want people to treat each other with more compassion and kindness? Then let it start with you. Even if the world doesn’t change, at least you have.

  16. Notice how it makes you feel. Notice how your actions affect others, especially when you start to treat them with kindness, compassion, respect, trust, love. But also notice the change in yourself. Do you feel better about yourself? Happier? More secure? More willing to trust others, now that you trust yourself? These changes come slowly and in small increments, but if you pay attention, you’ll see them.

  17. Say a prayer. There is a prayer on the Golden Rule, attributed to Eusebius of Caesarea, that would be worth saying once a day. It includes the following lines, among others: “May I gain no victory that harms me or my opponent.

    “May I reconcile friends who are mad at each other.
    May I, insofar as I can, give all necessary
    help to my friends and to all who are in need.
    May I never fail a friend in trouble.”

-AG

HISTORY IN THE MAKING

“The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play.” – Arnold Toynbee

LOCATION: Los Angeles Natural History Museum - Los Angeles, CA

Following your passion can be a tough thing. But figuring out what that passion is can be even more elusive.

I’m lucky — I’ve found my passion, and I’m living it. I can testify that it’s the most wonderful thing, to be able to make a living doing what you love.

And so, in this little guide, I’d like to help you get started figuring out what you’d love doing.

This will be the thing that will get you motivated to get out of bed in the morning, to cry out, “I’m alive! I’m feeling this, baby!”. And to scare your family members or anyone who happens to be in yelling distance as you do this.

This guide won’t be comprehensive, and it won’t find your passion for you. But it will help you in your journey to find it.

Here’s how.

1. What are you good at? Unless you’re just starting out in life, you have some skills or talent, shown some kind of aptitude. Even if you are just starting out, you might have shown some talent when you were young, even as young as elementary school. Have you always been a good writer, speaker, drawer, organizer, builder, teacher, friend? Have you been good at ideas, connecting people, gardening, selling? Give this some thought. Take at least 30 minutes, going over this question — often we forget about things we’ve done well. Think back, as far as you can, to jobs, projects, hobbies. This could be your passion. Or you may have several things. Start a list of potential candidates.

2. What excites you? It may be something at work — a little part of your job that gets you excited. It could be something you do outside of work — a hobby, a side job, something you do as a volunteer or a parent or a spouse or a friend. It could be something you haven’t done in awhile. Again, think about this for 30 minutes, or 15 at the least. If you don’t, you’re probably shortchanging yourself. Add any answers to your list.

3. What do you read about? What have you spent hours reading about online? What magazines do you look forward to reading? What blogs do you follow? What section of the bookstore do you usually peruse? There may be many topics here — add them to the list.

4. What have you secretly dreamed of? You might have some ridiculous dream job you’ve always wanted to do — to be a novelist, an artist, a designer, an architect, a doctor, an entrepreneur, a programmer. But some fear, some self-doubt, has held you back, has led you to dismiss this idea. Maybe there are several. Add them to the list — no matter how unrealistic.

5. Learn, ask, take notes. OK, you have a list. Pick one thing from the list that excites you most. This is your first candidate. Now read up on it, talk to people who’ve been successful in the field (through their blogs, if they have them, or email). Make a list of notes of things you need to learn, need to improve on, skills you want to master, people to talk to. Study up on it, but don’t make yourself wait too long before diving into the next step.

6. Experiment, try. Here’s where the learning really takes place. If you haven’t been already, start to do the thing you’ve chosen. Maybe you already are, in which case you might be able to skip to the next step or choose a second candidate to try out. But if you haven’t been, start now — just do it. It can be in the privacy of your own home, but as quickly as possible, make it public however you can. This motivates you to improve, it gets you feedback, and your reputation will improve as you do. Pay attention to how you feel doing it — is it something you look forward to, that gets you excited, that you love to share?

7. Narrow things down. I recommend that you pick 3-5 things from your list, if it’s longer than that, and do steps 5 & 6 with them. This could take month, or perhaps you’ve already learned about and tried them all out. So now here’s what you need to ask yourself: which gets you the most excited? Which of these can produce something that people will pay for or get excited about? Which can you see yourself doing for years (even if it’s not a traditional career path)? Pick one, or two at the most, and focus on that. You’re going to do the next three steps with it: banish your fears, find the time, and make it into a career if possible. If it doesn’t work out, you can try the next thing on your list — there’s no shame in giving something a shot and failing, because it’ll teach you valuable lessons that will help you to be successful in the next attempt.

8. Banish your fears. This is the biggest obstacle for most people – self-doubt and fear of failure. You’re going to face it and banish it. First, acknowledge it rather than ignoring or denying it. Second, write it down, to externalize it. Third, feel it, and be OK with having it. Fourth, ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Usually it’s not catastrophic. Fifth, prepare yourself for doing it anyway, and then do it. Take small steps, as tiny as possible, and forget about what might happen — focus on what actually is happening, right now. And then celebrate your success, no matter how small.

9. Find the time. Don’t have the time to pursue this passion? Make the time, dammit! If this is a priority, you’ll make the time — rearrange your life until you have the time. This might mean waking earlier, or doing it after work or during lunch, or on weekends. It will probably mean canceling some commitments, simplifying your work routing or doing a lot of work in advance (like you’re going on a vacation). Do what it takes.

10. How to make a living doing it. This doesn’t happen overnight. You need to do something, get good at it, be passionate about it. This could take months or years, but if you’re having fun, that’s what’s most important. When you get to the point where someone would pay you for it, then you’re golden — there are many ways to make a living at that point, including doing freelance or consulting work, making information products such as ebooks, writing a blog and selling advertising. In fact, I recommend you do a blog if you’re not already — it’ll help solidify your thinking, build a reputation, find people who are interested in what you do, demonstrate your knowledge and passion.

I told you this wouldn’t be easy. It’ll require a lot of reflection and soul-searching, at first, then a lot of courage and learning and experimentation, and finally a lot of commitment.

But it’s all worth it — every second, every ounce of courage and effort. Because in the end, you’ll have something that will transform your life in so many ways, will give you that reason to jump out of bed, will make you happy no matter how much you make.

I hope you follow this guide and find success, because I wish on you nothing less than finding your true passion. Investing in yourself is the best investment you will ever make. It will not only improve your life, and also it will improve the lives of all those around you.

-AG

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” – Confucius

A Guide for Young People: What to Do With Your Life

I had a younger lady asked me the other day and asked about figuring out what do do with her life.

She writes:

‘As a high-school student I’m constantly being reminded to figure out what to do with my life, what career I would like to have and so on. I definitely feel huge amounts of pressure when my teachers and parents tell me to figure out something now. I’m young and I don’t want to make a mistake and ruin my future. I know what I like and what my interests are but when I read about a job related to those interests I always feel as if I wouldn’t enjoy it and I don’t know why.’

What an extremely tough thing to figure out: what to do with your future! Now, I can’t really tell this young woman what to do, as her parents might not like that very much, but I can share what I’ve learned looking back on my life, and what I would tell my kids in the future.

Here’s what I’d say.

You can’t figure out the future. Even young people who have a plan (be a doctor, lawyer, research scientist, singer) don’t really know what will happen. If they have any certainty at all, they’re a bit deluded. Life doesn’t go according to plan, and while a few people might do exactly what they set out to do, you never know if you’re one of those. Other things come along to change you, to change your opportunities, to change the world. The jobs of working at Google, Amazon or Twitter, for example, didn’t exist when I was a teen-ager.

So if you can’t figure out the future, what do you do? Don’t focus on the future. Focus on what you can do right now that will be good no matter what the future brings. Make stuff. Build stuff. Learn skills. Go on adventures. Make friends. These things will help in any future.

Learn to be good with discomfort. One of the most important skills you can develop is being OK with some discomfort. The best things in life are often hard, and if you shy away from difficulty and discomfort, you’ll miss out. You’ll live a life of safety.

Learning is hard. Building something great is hard. Writing a book is hard. All are amazing.

If you get good at this, you can do anything. You can start a business, which you couldn’t if you’re afraid of discomfort, because starting a business is hard and uncomfortable.

How do you get good at this? Do things now that are uncomfortable and hard, on purpose. But start with small doses. Try exercising for a little bit, even if it’s hard, but just start with a few minutes of it, and increase a minute every few days or so. Try writing a blog or meditating every day. When you find yourself avoiding discomfort, push yourself just a little bit more (within limits of reason and safety of course).

Learn to be good with uncertainty. A related skill is thriving in uncertainty. Starting a business, for example, is an amazing thing to do … but if you’re afraid of uncertainty, you’ll skip it. You can’t know how things will turn out, and so if you need to know how things will turn out, you’ll avoid great projects, businesses, opportunities.

But if you can be OK with not knowing, you’ll be open to many more possibilities. If any opportunities comes along, just be ready to work your butt off and love every moment of it!

Overcome distraction and procrastination. All of this is useless if you can’t overcome the universal problems of distraction and procrastination. You might seize an opportunity because you’re good at uncertainty and discomfort, but then not make the most of it because you’re too busy on social media and watching TV.

Actually, distraction and procrastination are just ways of avoiding discomfort, so if you get good at discomfort you’re way ahead of most people. But there are some things you can practice.

Learn about your mind. Most people don’t realize that fear controls them. They don’t notice when they run to distraction, or rationalize doing things they told themselves they wouldn’t do. It’s hard to change mental habits because you don’t always see what’s going on in your head.

Learn about how your mind works, and you’ll be much better at all of this. The best ways: meditation and blogging. With meditation you watch your mind jumping around, running from discomfort, rationalizing. With blogging, you are forced to reflect on what you’ve been doing in life and what you’ve learned from it. It’s a great tool for self-growth, and I recommend it to every young person.

Make some money. I don’t think money is that important, but making money is difficult. You have to make someone believe in you enough to hire you or buy your products/service, which means you have to figure out why you’re worthy of someone believing in you. You have to become worthy. And you have to learn to communicate that to people so they’ll want to buy or hire you. Whether you’re selling cookies door-to-door or an app in the Apple store or trying to get a job as a cashier, you have to do this.

And you get better with practice.

I worked as a sales associate at a sports store when after high school, and those were valuable experiences for me.

(ProTip: save an emergency fund, then start investing your earnings in an index fund and watch it grow over your lifetime and also open a savings account and put it in a CD Certificate fund.)

Build something small. Most people fritter their time away on things that don’t matter, like TV, video games, social media, reading news. A year of that and you have nothing to show for it. But if you did a sketch every day, or started writing web app, or created a blog or a video channel that you update regularly, or started building a cookie business … at the end of a year you’ll have something great. And some new skills. Something you can point to and say, “I built that.” Which most people can’t do.

Start small, and build it every day if possible. It’s like putting your money in investments: it grows in value over time.

Become trustworthy. When someone hires a young person, the biggest fear is that the young person is not trustworthy. That they’ll come in late and lie about it and miss deadlines. Someone who has established a reputation over the years might be much more trusted, and more likely to be hired. Learn to be trustworthy by showing up on time, doing your best on every task, being honest, admitting mistakes but fixing them, trying your best to meet deadlines, being a good person.

If you do that, you’ll build a reputation and people will recommend you to others, which is the best way to get a job or investor.

Be ready for opportunities. If you do all of the above, or at least most of it, you’ll be amazing. You’ll be way, way ahead of pretty much every other person your age. And opportunities will come your way, if you have your eyes open: job opportunities, a chance to build something with someone, an idea for a startup that you can build yourself, a new thing to learn and turn into a business, the chance to submit your new screenplay.

These opportunities might come along, and you have to be ready to seize them. Take risks — that’s one of the advantages of being young. And if none come along, create your own.

Finally: The idea behind all of this is that you can’t know what you’re going to do with your life right now, because you don’t know who you’re going to be, what you’ll be able to do, what you’ll be passionate about, who you’ll meet, what opportunities will come up, or what the world will be like. But you do know this: if you are prepared, you can do anything you want.

Prepare yourself by learning about your mind, becoming trustworthy, building things, overcoming procrastination, getting good at discomfort and uncertainty.

You can put all this off and live a life of safety and boringness. Or you can start today, and see what life has to offer you.

Lastly, always remember to always keep aiming higher and pick a career that you will have the passion and fire every single day when you walk in that workplace. LOVE WHAT YOU, AND DO WHAT YOU LOVE!

-AG

The Transformative Power of the Gratitude Habit

There’s a small habit that I practice, that can turn difficult situations into much better ones — and it won’t surprise you. It’s the habit of gratitude.

This is such a simple habit, and it’s one that we often forget to practice. But when we do, it can transform our entire perspective, and with it our whole life.

Let me give you an example. About 10 years ago, I remember being caught in a rainstorm and being soaked, and also feeling generally stressed about being broke and hating my job and unhappy with my health. I was a bit depressed about it all, actually.

Then I decided to make a mental list of everything I was grateful for, right there in the rain. It was a long list, and while I can’t remember everything on it, some of the things I remember include:

  • I am healthy.

  • I can run.

  • I am alive.

  • I can love.

  • I am breathing.

  • I am employed.

  • I have loving family (parents, siblings, friends, and extended family) who I love dearly.

  • I can taste delicious food, smell flowers, see art, hear music. What miracles!

  • I am not starving, homeless, destitute, alone, destroyed by a natural disaster.

The list was probably 4-5 times as long, but you get the idea. The things I was taking for granted were now put front and center before me. The things I was feeling bad about didn’t go away, but they were put in perspective. They were blended with more powerful elements of my life into a mix that is ultimately true beauty and love.

Yes, there are bad things in my life, and it’s OK to feel bad about them. But it’s also important to remember the rest of my life, and to remember that even the bad things make life as complex and interesting as it is. Life would be boring without challenges!

The transformation of how I felt about my life, in that moment in the pouring rain, was really remarkable. All from making a simple list.

I’ve used this process hundreds of times since then, and it transforms everything:

  • When I’m feeling mad at someone, I can try to see what about them I’m grateful for.

  • When I procrastinate with a project, I can look at why I’m grateful to be able to work on that project.

  • When I get injured or sick, I can remember that I’m grateful just to be alive.

  • When I lose a good friend, I can grieve, but also be grateful for the time I had with them, and all that they gave me.

  • When something bad happens while traveling, I remember to be grateful for traveling at all, and that these challenges are what make the travel an adventure.

  • When someone doesn’t like what I do, and criticizes me, I can be grateful they care enough to even pay attention. Attention is a gift.

I’d like to make a small recommendation that could be powerful if you often forget to practice gratitude: start a small daily habit.

Just a few minutes per day of journaling, meditating on gratitude, or just thinking about what you’re grateful for in life. Do it every day, with a reminder, and see if it changes anything.

Don’t rush through it, don’t do it mindlessly, really try to feel gratitude for everything you list. Feel the amazingness of the things in your life!

-AG

Meditating in the Middle of Chaos

The wind and rain were swirling around me powerfully, as I sat in my mom’s tropical flower garden in Guam and meditated.

A tropical storm was passing close to Guam, where I’m living at the moment, and I decided to go out into the strong winds and torrential rain to meditate for at least a few minutes. Don’t worry, it was safe.

I actually stood in meditation, as sitting in a puddle of rainwater wasn’t that appealing to me. The water kissed my face, the wind rocked my body into a sway, and I practiced being present in the storm.

I was practicing stillness in the middle of chaos.

Of course, we don’t need to have an actual tropical storm (which turned into a supertyphoon after it passed us) to practice with chaos. It’s all around us, every day. Chaos is the uncertainty of our daily lives, the constant barrage of information and requests and tasks and messages we’re swarmed with, the uncertainty of the global stage and national politics, of our finances and global economy, of changing communities and our everchanging lives.

Chaos is all around us, and it can stress us out. It causes anxiety, depression, frustration, anger, procrastination, constant distraction, and the seeking of comforts like social media, food, shopping, games and more.

But what if we didn’t need to run to comfort or fear the chaos?

What if we could just be still, and find calmness and stillness with the uncertainty swirling around us?

A Joyful Practice in Chaos

So how can we practice mindfulness in the middle of chaos? How can we make it joyful?

For me, it looks something like this.

First, you give yourself space to be present with the chaos. I stood in the middle of the storm, because I was excited to see what it was like. I intentionally called it “meditating” because my intention was to be as present as possible with whatever happened. In your daily life, that might look like just stopping in the middle of your busy workday, at any moment, and dropping into the present moment so you can feel what the chaos feels like.

Second, you find the courage to be completely present with the felt experience of the chaos. In the storm, part of that was feeling the wind and rain on my skin, noticing the dramatic light that was filtering through the storm clouds, noticing the amazing tropical jungle in the small valley below me, and the movement of the trees and flowers surrounding me. But there was more than that: it was also the feeling of excitement in my chest, maybe a bit of uncertainty about whether something would fly and hit me on the head, which showed up as a small bit of fear radiating in my heart area. It was also the feeling of my body swaying, my leg muscles tensing, my chest expanding as I breathed. All of this is the felt experience of the moment. Not just my thoughts about it, but how it feels in my body. We can practice this in any moment.

Third, you relax into the chaos, and embrace it. Noticing how the chaos feels, you might notice any tension you have around it. For me, in the storm, there was tension around my safety (again, it was actually pretty safe), so I noticed this tension and relaxed those muscles. Relaxing my body, I let myself just surrender to it. Embrace it, as if it were an incredible gift. Again, we can practice this any moment. Right now, in fact, if you’d like to try it.

Fourth, you dance with it, joyfully. Once we relax around the chaos, and start to embrace it … we’re making friends with it. The uncertainty is no longer a thing to run from, or to resist, but is just a part of the experience of this moment. Of every moment. And so we can start to dance — let ourselves move through the chaos, in a loving, lovely, joyful way. What would it be like to play right now, in the middle of your uncertain life? What would it be like to be curious, and explore, like an adventurer? What would it be like to be grateful for this incredible moment of chaotic beauty? What would it be like to find the love, the openness, the swirling dancing musical movement in the middle of this storm?

We have the opportunity, every single day, even every moment, to be present with the storm of the world. To sit in stillness in the middle of the wind and downpour of life. We have the opportunity to be open to it, to dance with it, to even find the joy in the immense uncertainty that is our lives.

-AG